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Proposal Melds State Environment Agencies

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The Utah Department of Environmental Quality is planning to consolidate two state agencies to improve efficiency.

Utah’s Radiation Control Division oversees everything from dental X-ray machines to a massive radioactive waste site, and the proposal has scientists and engineers joining the state’s solid and hazardous waste program. DEQ Director Amanda Smith says the plan retains staff expertise and institutional knowledge.

“I don’t the think that the question of whether the people will be safer is even a relevant question,” says Smith. “The goal is to be more protective of public health, to be more transparent, to add value to that process.”

A 2012 state audit attacked the radiation control division for lax oversight of EnergySolutions. The low-level radioactive waste site in Tooele County has asked to bury big volumes of depleted uranium, a kind of radioactive waste that gets more hazardous over time. It’s unclear whether old or new regulators would decide

“I think our biggest fear,” says Matt Pacenza, policy director for the environmental group HEAL Utah, “is that they take the decision away from someone who has spent years studying it and hand it off to someone who might have weeks at best.”

Pacenza’s group is waiting to see legislative language before weighing in on the proposal.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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